AI: Master Debating

Each Wednesday’s Afternoon Inquisition is presented by the previous winner of the Comment o’ the Week. Today’s question comes courtesy of Bookitty, who writes:


Lately, I’ve been discussing the West Bend, WI library saga. To my shocked surprise, some people agree with the frothing Christian would-be censors. Their argument is a well-worn emotional appeal – “Won’t someone think of the CHILDREN!!!OMG!!!” This fallback position is the most overused red herring in the history of political debate. It is maddening.

So my question is this – What commonly used red herring, straw man, or other specious debate gimmick drives you absolutely bonkers? And more importantly, how do you try to pull the topic back towards logical discourse?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. The false dichotomy. I’ve pretty well given up trying to draw the argument back to logic. When people start using logical falacies I realize that they aren’t interested in discussing the issue at hand. I don’t like to waste my time if I can help it

  2. Them: “You’re just saying that, because you want to be right!”

    Me: “No, I’m not saying that to be right. I’m saying it to be correct in the facts. But, the fact that it’s correct, eventually means that it’s right.”

    This usually brings on blank stares while they work it out…

  3. At least in the last 18 months or so, all somebody feels they need to do is cry “socialism” and it pretty much derails any political debate. At that point you can either try to explain how something is NOT socialist, or explain how we’ve been a socialist nation for generations anyway… either way, they assume you’re a commie pinko fag and are not to be trusted. So i just kick them in the balls and steal their wallet. How’s that for free market, sucka!

  4. The slippery slope… which seems to lead to mass panic about people having sex with children or animals (when the topic was marriage) or power hungry PMS driven idiots (when the subject is women in politics) or tp rations and no health care and the terrorists having won (when the subject is universal health care of anything having to do with Obama)……

  5. What I hate the most is the appeal to nature fallacy. It’s the most common fallacy, and scientists, skeptics, and rational thinkers are not immune to falling for it.

    Of course this fallacy shows up all the time with homeopaths, herb-pushers, anti-vaxxers, etc. What’s worse is when people use it in sciencey-sounding way. It always comes up in debates about breast-feeding, nutrition, and evo psych. People will say “our ancestors evolved to eat this or that” or “our ancestors evolved to act this way”. Here’s the problem. Our ancestors had pretty crappy lives. Evolution doesn’t make our adaptions perfect, it only makes them good enough. Our ancestors certainly didn’t evolve living in houses, using air conditioning, shaving, wearing clothes, using the internet, using indoor plumbing, sanitizing water supplies, or even farming. They had low life expectancies, high infant mortality rates, nutritional deficiencies, and many other problems. Then there’s the issue of how long ago something had to happen for it to be considered “natural”. Farming and wearing clothes are pretty old, but our earliest ancestors that could still be considered human didn’t use them. It just annoys me how often this fallacy comes up even in supposedly rational places.

  6. The one that always brings me close to physical violence is “You’re just brainwashed.” Like saying “God did it” there is a internal logic to it that’s irrefutable. Attempting to persuade them you’re not brainwashed is futile. Arguing that other people hold your opinion just expands their pool of brainwashees.

    Once I’ve decided this is a person I have no interest in talking to ever again I usually just point out embarrassing physical details until they go away. “Did you know your right ear is slightly larger? Have you ever had that mole checked? Is your underwear too tight on purpose?”

  7. Hero worship.

    Cops, firemen, and the military are seen to be somehow above criticism.

    As an example of this, in my hometown, which is also the county seat of Ashland County, Wisconsin, is a city police service. The county sheriff’s department is also located in Ashland.

    Someone raised the question of combining the two services to eliminate what overhead they could and spend the public funds a but more wisely.

    Well, this precipitated a storm of angry, emotional responses. How dare anyone suggest getting rid of the cops!! They put their lives on the line every day (actually, not in Ashland. It’s not that dangerous there) for the public! It’s so safe here “because” of the police!

    Of course no one suggested eliminating the service, just combining the two services into one that would be less expensive to operate.

    The city council voted to table the discussion forever. People were incapable of having a rational discussion about it.

  8. Ipso ergo facto proctor wrong. Drawing the wrong conclusion from your experience, as in: “I saw a bird flying by and then I tripped, therefore the bird tripped me.”
    Is there a fancy name for using anecdotes as data?

  9. Aside from “Think of the children!” I’d have to go with the “To make an omelette, you’ve got to break a few eggs” argument.

    Certainly, few would argue that there are pros and cons to any point-of-view about a particular issue. But just saying that IN NO WAY justifies any particular drawbacks brought up in a debate.

    It’s necessary to demonstrate WHY a particular compromise is “best” in a situation, and to ensure that certain negatives absolutely cannot be addressed without weakening the overall strength of a proposal to a point where another option might be better.

    Been seeing this a lot lately with both sides of the health care debate, and it’s making me mental!

  10. “Darwin was an inbred opium addict. He was a loon.”

    I get that every time I mention the Darwin Awards. I usually stick to the validity of the theory, but I have an aquaintance who likes to attack the man. I’m about ready to come out guns blazing. Last time I did that about the violence in Islam, she decided she didn’t want to talk religion with me anymore, since I pointed out where Christianity is just as bad.

  11. “You can’t say that, because you’ll fright the villagers and harm The Movement!”

    Perhaps true in some cases, but seldom presented with anything resembling the level of evidence that would be necessary to support it, or even a hint of the awareness that such evidence is required.

    I was once told, with what I believe was a straight face, that as a skeptic I should not criticize Twilight, because doing so would drive away a large and valuable demographic.

  12. But, she was talking about the national healthcare debate, and pointed out an article where a woman was offered assisted suicide, but not the care she needed.

    My acquaintance suggested that this is what we had to look forward to (strawman). When I pointed out the assisted suicide is legal in Oregon, she said that I was rude (ad hom) and never talked about the healthcare afterwards, just my rudeness.

  13. “Don’t blame the victim” is a pet peeve of mine. Generally speaking, I don’t think many people have the tendency to blame victims. Instead, they disagree about whether the alleged victim has, in fact, been victimized. This phrase presupposes the outcome of the discussion that it’s a part of.

  14. Oh and especially when dealing with religious folk in matters of science, they constantly point to the “science doesn’t know how to explain this” as if it lends some kind of creedence to their side. Yes, you’re absolutely right, science DOESN’T know what caused the Big Bang. But they’re also not making up reasons and passing them off as irrefutable… ah but then they say evolution is “Just a theory” and frankly I’ve run out of energy to explain that one again.

  15. One of my own pet peeves, especially in regards to creationism, is the “The USA is a Christian Democracy” belief. (Which usually boils down to “There are more of us, so we are right.”)

    No, we are a democratic republic and more of our citizens are Christian than any other religion. Our constitution protects the rights of the minority against the majority.

  16. @Robyne_BR: Would that be begging the question/circular reasoning? How do we know s/he was a victim? Because they were victimized.

    But not stating that a logical course of action here or there would have avoided the victimization.

  17. @Bookitty: Yes. I was thinking this more generally, in terms of ‘the majority always is right” or that everything should be put to a majority vote. There are good reasons the minority has constitutional protections.

  18. Also, “Scientists wouldn’t spend so much effort trying to debunk creationism/the Moon Hoax conspiracy/astrology/homeopathy/etceterology if there weren’t something true about it!” Also phrased as, “Wow! We’ve really touched a nerve!”

  19. 1) “science doesn’t know everything” as an excuse for believing any particular idiotic woo.

    2) Accusations of inciting “class warfare” as a method to derail any discussion whatsoever of income disparity or related issues.

  20. “Science doesn’t know everything” – though thanks to the video posted the other day I now have a reply to that.

    The other one that gets me is “if lots of people believe it, there must be something to it”, which I hear from various work colleagues.

  21. I’m going to put in my vote for the popular tactic of completely ignoring the presented argument. I call it the Arguing with a fence post fallacy. Sadly, I’m usually the one guilty of the fallacy.

  22. @Robyne_BR: Having a friend who has recently been dealing with sexual assault, I have to disagree. Victim blaming is very real and very serious in some cases.

    Granted, not all cases. But it’s still very serious.

    We are inclined to believe that there are two sides to every story. We know that in most fair legal systems, the perpetrator is assumed innocent until proven guilty. And those are valuable positions to take. We are also inclined to take the sides of our friends rather than strangers, which may be noble, but the tendency should not be ignored.

    But these knee-jerk positions neglect the possibility that real harm has been done, whether it was intended or not, and shift the blame to the accuser. And in cases where the victim has in fact been victimized, but simply cannot be proven, the victim may already dealing with real psychological and emotional trauma. Add to that the stress of being accused of false accusations, or even of initiating the assault themselves in the first place.

    So no, don’t blame the victim. Don’t jump to conclusions either, but there are many real situations where the victim should be granted the benefit of the doubt.

  23. The “slippery slope” argument is a personal favorite. “If you let people do X, next thing you know they’ll be doing Y!” …where Y is something insane and often totally unrelated to X.

    I’ve seen it used frequently to argue that people need the threat of eternal damnation hanging over their heads to keep them from going on killing sprees. My rebuttal to this is that I don’t believe in eternal damnation and I hardly ever go on killing sprees. This is usually countered with “Oh, no. Not you. But some people.” …where “some” is code for the racial or ethnic minority du jour.

  24. @catgirl:

    Even someone who would tell you “the plural of anecdote is not data” with regard to acupuncture, say, can fail to apply the same standard to a subject not on the skeptical community’s hot list. I’ve seen some truly inane arguments on science-blog comment threads about stuff like proper punctuation usage, whether singular they is good English and so forth. Typically, when you push through all the bluster, the argument for one side boils down to, “That’s the way I’ve always done it” or “That’s the way I was taught in school, so it looks right to me”.

    It’s weird how people can accept that their schoolbooks were inadequate on physics or evolution but not on grammar.

  25. Or “The Agenda,” the idea that a group of people (gays, feminists, New World Order) actually have unstated motives for their cause.

    To me it always sounds as if they believe the group is actually an evil cabal that gets together in their super-secret bunker for weekly meetings on how to further bring down “The American Way.”

  26. I hate all straw man arguments, on the other sometimes I enjoy using straw man and various techniques very badly just make frustrate and annoy people I disagree with. If I can’t prove my point, maybe I’ll give them a headache. All in good fun but I know it’s wrong

    (PS, never used in serious debates, only for pushing button)

    (PPS don’t let an asshole push your buttons)

  27. For me, it’s the ‘big three’ of pseudoscience-using-the-real thing: ‘Quantum Mechanics / Chaos Theory / Multiple Universes proves that x can really work!’ I usually ask the speaker to show me the math. While I’ve had people claim that there particular idiocy can be shown in the math, I’ve never had anyone write down so much as a single mathematical statement.

    Oh, and on an unrelated note: Judeo/Christian drives me absolutely wild. Every fundamentalist Christian wants to invoke Judaism for some reason.

  28. I regularly encounter people who use alt med therapies or diets — a big one being the “blood type diet”. I try to gently steer them in to more evidence-based ways of thinking but often I get the reply, “I know it works for me”.

    Those five words drive me batshit.

  29. What I hate are arguments that slang, leetspeak, or any non-standard spelling or grammar are wrong. As much as misuse of apostrophes annoys me, I realize that there’s no specific “right” English. The point of language is to communicate ideas. If many people understand the meaning of something, that makes it correct. That is the most important criterion for deciding what is right. It’s not up to some special group of people who get to decide the rules. Language changes. Language is the one are where something is right simply because enough people do it. That’s the freaking point.

  30. Oh, the other thing I hate is anything that claims to “detox” your body. What do you think your liver and kidneys do all day? If those organs aren’t working for you, then detox junk won’t help anyway; you need dialysis.

  31. As if on cue, here’s a good “slippery slope” argument from our friends at Apple. Apparently, allowing jailbreaking on the iPhone could lead to cell tower crashes and drug dealers making anonymous calls. They neglected to mention whether it might cause hair to grow on the palms of your hands, though.

  32. By the way, is it wrong to find it funny that the title of this AI is only one syllable away from masturbating?

    Though I accept that could be the intention…

  33. @catgirl:

    I didn’t get what “grammar” was really about until I studied Latin. What passes for “grammar lessons” in American schools are more like etiquette training: don’t do X, Y or Z, because somebody who might one day have influence over your career might be upset by them.

  34. One that i find really amusing is when someone tells me “well when you lose someone close to you, then you’ll believe in God.” Or they use some other time where I’ll be in a great deal of emotional distress.

    Ya know what? I think that sorta makes sense. When i’m in a really emotional state and not thinking clearly, there IS a chance that I’ll start agreeing with them. But that’s not something i’d be telling everyone if i were them.

  35. @ catgirl

    I’m more inclined to accept the converse grammar rule. If many people do not understand the meaning, that makes it incorrect. I agree that it is not up to a specific group of people to define the rules, but most leetspeak, slang, etc, is precisely that.

    (The above, and presumably the post to which it responds, concern themselves only with grammar and usage, not with content. Comprehensibility of content has previous little to do with correctness of same.)

  36. @Andrew Nixon:

    The other one that gets me is “if lots of people believe it, there must be something to it”, which I hear from various work colleagues.

    My reply to that is, “Lot’s of people thought that having a Pet Rock was a good idea. That doesn’t mean it makes sense. What’s right, true or works is rarely the same thing as what’s popular.”

  37. While I know arguing on the internet is like winning the special opympics-even if you win, you’re still retarded (is that not potically correct? oops.)

    I feel like the logical avenger-seeking out and destroying illogical arguments when I find them. I have this compulsion…I can’t help it.

    Is that a sign of mental illness?

  38. @infinitemonkey:

    Arguing with people who are mininformed is not a sign of mental illness. Feeling like the logical avenger may be, depending on whether you imagine yourself a cape and tights.

  39. @SKrap:

    I think more people know what cheezburger means than know that the “correct” plural of octopus is octopodes. Even my browser spellchecker doesn’t recognize octopodes. Does that mean it’s incorrect to use it?

    When it comes to slang an leet speak, many, many people understand it. Just because they are young people and teenagers doesn’t mean they count any less. Of course, knowing your audience is the most important thing, but online everyone understands slang. I think that age bias plays a big part in labeling slang as wrong. Some may say that not enough people understand it, but what they really mean is that the “important people” don’t understand it.

  40. @catgirl: I would think it would be the other way around-the important people understand it, but, based on the slang used by the younger ones, they obviously don’t. Besides, isn’t it time for their Similac, anyways.

  41. @jblumenfeld:

    It’s always an. . . interesting experience to read something written by somebody who throws together all the jargon terminology without regard to the meaning, particularly when that meaning is mathematical in nature. To pick a random example, “multi-dimensional realities make sense to me. [T]his band of frequencies experiences a duality principle that is holographic to the rest of [the] system” (quoted here). Or,

    The principle of helicity subsumes within it the principles of reciprocity and synchrony, and postulates further explanatory and predictive dimensions of nursing’s theoretical system. The principle of helicity connotes that the life process evolves unidirectionally in sequential stages along a curve which has the same general shape all along but which does not lie in a plane. Encompassed within this principle are the concepts of rhythmicality, negentropic evolutionary emergence, and the unitary nature of the man-environment relationship. [quoted on p. 17]

    They’ve got the words, but they’re missing the music.

    (On your second point, “Judeo-Christian” sounds a bit like “capitalist-Marxist”, doesn’t it?)

  42. Argh. Blockquote FAIL.

    . . . which, incidentally, is a good example of the contextual nature of what counts as “correct” language. I suspect that many commenters here would refrain from declaring “EPIC FAIL” in formal situations but would see no problem with using such terms in a less formal register.

  43. Hmm. I think that last sentence is my choice for the topic at hand. Claiming to know what someone means better than they do and then stating an exagerated and self important version of the opposing position is pretty high on my list of low debating tactics.

    The next paragraph was going to be an example of how octopodes was fine because people could decode it from the context. It only seems unreasonable taken in isolation. However, I couldn’t write that paragraph without using multiple imaginary plurals for octopus, which rapidly got obscene.

    Really, catgirl is right that the audience is the thing. We talk about many people understanding or not, when really we should be talking about a significant portion of the (intended or actual) audience understanding. At the end of the day, communication is like shooting somebody. If you miss them, its not their fault.

  44. @infinitemonkey: Is that a sign of mental illness?

    I hope not because I display all the symptoms. But there is hope, I am learning to walk away.

    For example, while discussing West Bend I responded to a ridiculous premise with “Interesting. Were true, it would change the nature of this debate. Do you have an solid evidence to back that up?”

    And they responded with “Only 50 years of keeping my eyes open!”

    At which point, I gave up.

  45. @SKrap: Oh, no, I was playing around, and now I’m coming up with a superhero-The Logical Avenger, and his weapon was forged by Occam. It was mistranslated. Its often refered to as a razor, but its a sword.

  46. All my pet peeves have been mentioned already, but I have an idea for a future AI related to this library story…

    I’d be curious to see what kinds of things people here would censor from their children. Are people generally anything-goes with their kids? Or are there certain things that people here try to shelter their kids from or certain books that they wouldn’t want their kids to see? How do you decide?

  47. @LinzeeBinzee: I probably wouldn’t let my kids watch something that I think might be traumatic for them. Not because i’m worried about ideas that I disagree with, i just need my sleep and it’s hard to do that with a screaming kid in the house.

  48. This was already mentioned sort of but in a somewhat different way. I actually had someone in a group discussion tell me this and the majority of the participants totally agreed.

    “This is a contry based on Christian values and therefore you have freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion”.

    That is an exact quote. Working in the aerospace industry on governement contracts, I hear that kind of crap all the time. And you really can’t say much against it because then people start looking at you like you are an untrustworthy radical liberal commie pinko phag. And that is SO offensive because I am NOT a commie. :o)

  49. I agree with many of these. Also, “legislating from the bench” really gets me, as it is ONLY used when a ruling goes against the accuser.

    I know it’s been said, but “Socialism” being thrown around by people who clearly have no idea what it means…Next time, try asking ’em. Say, “I never thought of it that way, can you explain how that is more Socialist than what we already have?”

    My very favorite logical fallacy to hate is “argument from personal incredulity”. People who claim something is false because they have a hard time believing it are idiots (my favorite logical fallacy to love: ad homs!).

  50. The whole “God works in mysterious ways” argument.

    Like where was said God when another God told a bunch of people to fly airplanes into buildings?

    Or when God let me watch that Steven Seagal movie the other night, what mystery was God working on then?

  51. Denver7M – I forgot that one. Joe Freakin’ LIEBERMAN said that when he was running for VP. Oh, that made/makes me shudder.

  52. How could all you miss, “But that’s what the nazi’s/commies/KKK/assorted-badies did!”? I love that one. Have a good idea? Good idea can be vaguely construed as relating to nazi’s? INSTANT EVIL.

  53. I have to agree that trying to fit US economic policy to a capitalist – socialist scale is a bad idea, the Republicans are as poor a fit for free-market capitalism as the Democrats are for socialism.

    A mercantilistcorporatist scale would be more appropriate, but then pundits would have to add two new words to their vocabularies.

  54. I hate it when every bit of evidence presented against a conspiracy is somehow turned into a part of the conspiracy by the true believers.

  55. @brian: “…“well when you lose someone close to you, then you’ll believe in God.”

    I have and I still don’t. So there. (stomps foot!)

  56. What my mother pulls on me all the time and drives me bonkers is, “There is no truth.” Everything is constantly changing as new evidence comes in and so therefor nothing is real. Truth is what you chose it to be. We all have our own version of truth. *sigh*

    We argue this for hours. I claim evidence is truth and that science builds upon itself. She tells me I have no idea what is real evidence because science is always changing it’s opinion.

    Oh, and then she likes to throw in the old, science is religion story.


  57. @Amy: There’s a old website around where they make a similar argument. It involves asking something like, “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?” and you have to choose “Yes” or “No”. If you pick yes, you get sent to a Christian website. If you pick no, it gives you the question, “Is that absolutely true?” and you have to answer either “Yes” or “No” again.

    You can guess where this is going…

    The real answer is that it’s not an “absolute truth”, it’s a fact. Facts and truths are two different things in this case. So, in this case, it’s an absolute fact that there are no absolute truths.

    Next time, ask her if she’s making an absolutely true statement, or a factually true statement. If she says factually, then tell her she can’t speak in “absolutes” like “There’s no truth” when it comes to evidence. If we don’t completely know something, there’s a chance, no matter how large or small, that something will come around to change our understanding of the facts in total.

    Unlike religion, science deals in discovered facts, not revealed truths. Truths can be what we make of the facts, but they have little to no bearing on the facts themselves. If a fact comes to light that changes how things are seen to work, the “truth” has to change to fit the evidence.

    Religion has to be created on established “truths”. So, when new evidence comes around; if it contradicts the “truth”; the “truth” wins out by changing or ignoring the facts to suit itself.

  58. What commonly used red herring, straw man, or other specious debate gimmick drives you absolutely bonkers? And more importantly, how do you try to pull the topic back towards logical discourse?

    @Anthony said:

    I’m going to put in my vote for the popular tactic of completely ignoring the presented argument. I call it the Arguing with a fence post fallacy.

    That one does it for me. That’s the one that drives me deep round the bend, combined, as it often is with a stubborn refusal to understand or accept proper, definitive, authoritative dictionary defintions of words and language over personal or “trendy” and popular defintions of words and language.

    @catgirl said:

    I think more people know what cheezburger means than know that the “correct” plural of octopus is octopodes. Even my browser spellchecker doesn’t recognize octopodes. Does that mean it’s incorrect to use it?

    I think you’re being a wee bit hasty there catgirl.

    From Wikipedia:

    The Oxford English Dictionary (2004 update[30]) lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order); it labels octopodes “rare”, and notes that octopi derives from the mistaken assumption that octōpÅ«s is a second declension Latin noun, which it is not. Rather, it is (Latinized) Greek, from oktṓpous (ὀκτώπους), gender masculine, whose plural is oktṓpodes (ὀκτώποδες). If the word were native to Latin, it would be octōpÄ“s (‘eight-foot’) and the plural octōpedes, analogous to centipedes and mÄ«llipedes, as the plural form of pÄ“s (‘foot’) is pedes. The actual Latin word is “polypus,” which does render the plural “polypi.” In modern Greek, it is called khtapódi (χταπόδι), gender neuter, with plural form khtapódia (χταπόδια).

    Chambers 21st Century Dictionary[31] and the Compact Oxford Dictionary[32] list only octopuses, although the latter notes that octopodes is “still occasionally used”; the British National Corpus has 29 instances of octopuses, 11 of octopi and 4 of octopodes. Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary lists octopuses and octopi, in that order; Webster’s New World College Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order).

    Fowler’s Modern English Usage states that “the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses,” and that octopi is misconceived and octopodes pedantic.

    The term octopod (plural octopods or octopodes) is taken from the taxonomic order Octopoda but has no classical equivalent. The collective form octopus is usually reserved for animals consumed for food.

  59. My father trying to explaining to me ( and being supported by my step family) that evolution didn’t happen and all the skeletons of dinosaurs, homo erectus etc were put there by the devil to trick us…….errrrr…..nice weather today isn’t it?

    I still don’t believe in creationism- but do believe there is now a bit more evidence that certain members of my family may have been replaced by space aliens.

  60. The fallacy of compromise drives me nuts, especially when someone uses it to pat him or herself on the back. I see it coming most often from people who want to distance themselves from extremists but who don’t understand the importance of distinguishing claims based in reality from those pulled out of one’s ass. Not only do they think atheists are as dogmatic as religious fundamentalists (for just one example), they feel superior to either because they are much more “enlightened” and “willing to see what both sides has to offer.”

    Since their self-esteem is so heavily tied into this position and they are not only impervious to reason, they think they are already paragons of it, I haven’t found an effective method of getting through to them. But it’s fun to stab holes in everything they say and watch them twist themselves into logical pretzels trying to patch things up.

  61. @LinzeeBinzee: I would be concerned if my daughter were into violent or racist media, but I don’t think I would even censor these but rather argue against their messages. I already do this with her to some extent as she’s gotten into Star trek, and there is a lot of stereotyping in the series (all Ferengi are greedy, all Cardasians are evil, all Klingons are violent, and so on). I’ve tried to get her to question those stereotypes with limited success so far, but I’m not going to ban Star trek because of them.

  62. @MiddleMan:
    Thanks! I am going to print out your post so I have it as reference next time my Ma tries to trip me up with her slippery truth argument. :)

  63. I don’t know what kind of fallacy it is, but I hate it when people say: “You are being close minded!”
    It drives me absolutely insane. Firstly, the mindedness of someone is not the topic of a conversation usually, it is about whether the person got the facts right, so it absolutely distracts one from the main point. Secondly, people seem to believe that being open minded means accepting everything, even if the facts are wrong. Plus it leaves out the part in which people sometimes have to make inductive assumptions. Because if people don’t make some valid assumptions, everyone would go insane. It’s just that sometimes, they go and just say, “have you checked everything?” Then, they move the goalposts, then say “you are being close minded!”

  64. “you can’t prove it wrong, therefor it’s a valid point”.

    …particularly when it can’t be proven right either, and the available evidence (whilst not ruling it out conclusively) supports the opposite view.

  65. The one that kills me every time is:
    “That’s just my opinion, and we’re all entitled to our own opinions”

    I usually then go for something like:
    “OK, fine, the world is flat and dogs speak French, but that’s just my opinion – we’re all entitled to our opinions. Even when they’re patently ridiculous”

  66. “The ends don’t justify the means.” Bullshit! I can think of, off the top of my head, a number of situations where the ends completely and fully justify the means. Trampling your neighbour’s newly-planted lawn…to save the child drowning in his swimming pool. Punching a guy in the face…to stop him from stabbing you. Being late for work…because you chose to drive safely through unexpectedly heavy traffic. The saying should really be “the ends don’t *necessarily* justify the means.

  67. “for your own good”

    It usually crops up during conversations involving legislation dealing with one’s own person, like seat belt laws, prescription medicine, drugs, and the like. If the best reason for passing a law is that it’s “for your own good,” it should not be passed.

  68. @Robyne_BR: Well, guess what? The logical fallacy *I* hate is this “they deserved it!” mentality that is rampant in our society. “She was wearing a short skirt, she deserved to get raped!” “Well, maybe if she had been SMARTER, she wouldn’t have been stalked!” “Maybe if she had listened to her husband, he wouldn’t have beat her!” “She’s known to be a slut around here! She couldn’t have been raped! Sluts can’t be raped!” etc.

    As someone mentioned, victims, especially in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, are blamed all the time.

  69. When the person losing the debate says, “But getting back to the original argument, I was saying…” and then goes on and makes up something completely different from what was said before – sometimes changing the topic completely!

  70. @MiddleMan:

    Facts and truths are two different things in this case. So, in this case, it’s an absolute fact that there are no absolute truths.

    Also, in case of redundancy, smack writer…

  71. The argument that gets to me is the “I don’t want my [money, time, resources] spent on that group” argument. I’m calling it the “Greedy Mine, mine, it’s mine, and you can’t have any” argument.

    For instance, “I don’t want my money given to those without health insurance.” What they’re saying is “I don’t want my money, which is contributed by me in the form of taxes, sent to the common pot, mixed up with other sources of money, given to someone that has no health insurance and no chance to get some, because somehow that money’s really mine, and I’m keeping track of it, and they should get their own insurance anyway, which they would since they can easily find a job, and every job offers health insurance that’s always fair and impartial, and they should stop taking something that’s mine-in-this-seriously-attenuated-to-the-point-of-breaking- way, and let me keep my own money for me, since after all, I can direct every portion of my money to the stuff that the evil gov’t does in minute detail.”

    There’s a lot of personal power assumptions in this type of argument, but it all comes down to “it’s mine, mine, and I’m a happy miser” (said in an extremely Daffy Duck way).

  72. Presenting a specious need.

    For example, there’s a debate in Texas about public school text books – is there enough mention of the Bible in the social studies books? Here’s a quote:

    “If you’re going to properly teach American history, you need to teach the Christian world view motivation of the people who made the history.”

    This statement is basically fact. The Bible, the Magna Carta and political philosophy were all inspirational to the American forefathers.

    But it supposes that there is currently no mention at at all of the religious views of the founding fathers. Since any religion will have an impact on society, it would be irresponsible to overlook it in a social studies class. At the grade school level, it would not be heavily examined but it would be there.

    This statement is supposed to be make even non-fundamentally Christian parents think “Gee, this no religion in schools thing has gone too far if they can’t even teach facts!”

  73. @efrenzy:

    I can’t imagine anyone wanting to make sure their hard-earned money was spent on something worthwhile that they approve of. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the whole “you live here, contribute to the common good” argument. It is valid to a point. But to say that demanding accountability for your contribution is selfish is just silly. The government wastes vast amounts of money doing things the private sector could do more cheaply, and often better, all the time. Accountability helps keep that in check. Why should, for example, I contribute to Government Program A that costs twice as much and works half as well as Private Sector Program B? If we are allowed to contribute how and where we want, and GPA fails, whereas PSPB succeeds, then we realize that GPA sucks, and we can change or close it and move on. If, on the other hand, our taxes are taken and spent without our approval, then GPA keeps getting funded forever, wasting my time and money, and screwing everyone in the process. Social Security, anyone?

    And yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a libertarian, though I lean to the left a lot farther than most libertarians seem to lean.

  74. @ graey,

    I see your point. Accountability for gov’t programs, for example, is proper. If we can’t mark where the waste or inefficiencies are, then we can’t make the programs work better, or get rid of them if they no longer work.

    What I’m opposed to is the attitude of “I’ve got mine, you can leap off a cliff for yours” attitude that I see too much of on the political blogs.
    What gets to me is the incredibly inflated sense of me that occurs in the “Greedy Mine, mine, it’s mine, and you can’t have any” arguments. Not, “I don’t want money spent on programs that are run badly”, but “I don’t want MY money spent on programs that I personally do not approve of, to people that I would find absolutely appalling, because it’s all MY money.”

    There’s such a inflated sense of self-importance to that type of argument that there is no way to debate (or argue) the point. Appeals to the common good (moral, emotional, or rational) are met with “it’s my money!”. Rational cause and effect are met with “Yeah, but you’re not dipping into my wallet to pay a cent to it”. Don’t even think about partisan arguing — that’s an abyss that no one can crawl out from.

    It’s an attitude with money signs and blinders right in front of them.

  75. efrenzy:

    The reason you can’t successfully argue against this point is because it is a conflict of terminal values, rather than a problem of logic. If a person doesn’t care about the welfare of the people you want to help, then no amount of explaining that you’re trying to help people will do you any good. Ultimately they see you as a thief, using the power of the state to steal what is rightfully theirs to use for your purposes.

  76. @Marilove
    I think there is a term for it in psychology called the just world phenomenom. Basically, people looking over a victim’s misfortune believes it happened because of the victim’s fault. Kind of like the way some rich people say that anyone, as long as they work hard enough, can reach to the top, and the poors are just not motivated enough.

  77. @Amanda and Indigo: Even Christ rejected the principle that the “ends justify the means.” When xtians say that in a discussion, I laugh in their faces.

  78. my girlfriend always tells me that i should eat 3 meals a day, and drink lots of water. which is fine and all. i dont always achieve this. sometimes but rarely these days, going up to the evening without eating or drinking anything. i usually fell fine, glad to be busy. she usually becomes upset at this fact. which i dont understand completely but appreciate it still. i argue that its not that bad every once i a while. i mean hunter gatherers and ancient peoples im sure didnt eat as much as modern humans. who know how long the time was between meals or drinking water. sometimes i gorge and eat too much beyond being full. and also arguement ensues. and i say shit! i bet cavemen would eat a shit load if they had a dead mammoth in front of them because they couldnt turn it to jerky before some other predators got to it. and dogs are really huge gluttons if they get the chance to be. they lust for human food.

  79. What really sours me up in a debate is the epistemology-101-strategy, where your evidence is confronted with the objection, that true knowledge is unachievable by empirical means. That you can’t really _know_ anything about a chair by looking at it, because of all the information-loss by visual/auditorial or technology-aided perception. This really pisses me off, because it doesn’t add anything to the debate, it’s just a blunt attempt of sabotage.

    I usually get out of it, by holding the same argument up as a mirror, saying “Well if perception is _this_ difficult, then how can you make _your_ claim ( “homeopathy/dowsing/praying works” ) without completely losing your intellectual integrity?

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